The Braves could have one of the better rotations in baseball this season, and they could do it with all five of their pitchers being younger than 27. The continued development of the young starting rotation may just be the most exciting storyline of the 2015 season in Atlanta.
Julio Teheran and Alex Wood were terrific as 23 year olds last year and should be in for nice 2015 campaigns.
While Teheran has become a well-known name for most, it surprises me that Wood isn't brought up more when the game's top young arms are discussed. The former UGA product has a career 2.84 ERA and 3.18 FIP over 35 starts the last two seasons. He strikes out nearly a batter per inning while limiting walks, and he gives up few home runs.
Braves fans know how good Teheran and Wood can be. If they're at the top of their games, the rest of the league is going to find out in a hurry, too. They'll just discover their brilliance as their team beats the Braves back-to-back nights, 1-0 and 2-1.
Shelby Miller, 24, came through the minor leagues looking like a potential front-end starting pitcher. His roller coaster second full season in the big leagues was well documented. In short, in the second half of 2014, Miller ditched his changeup, started throwing his big curveball a lot more, and began throwing a cut-fastball. It led to a 2.92 ERA and 4.20 FIP after the midway point. Roger McDowell will look to straighten him out now.
Mike Minor was awful last year after a stellar 2013 campaign, and it's entirely possible he was never truly healthy. Penis surgery in the spring messed up preparations for the start of the season, and he fought through shoulder fatigue and soreness for much of the second half.
Further reason to be encouraged by Minor's health. Fredi said, "(Minor) looked like he's in midseason form" after today's workout. #Braves
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) February 22, 2015
Minor, if healthy, would provide a huge boost to the Braves' chances of not being awful this year. If he can return to 2013 form – it's easy to forget he posted a 3.21 ERA, 3.37 FIP and 3.5 WAR over 205 innings – it would give the club yet another valuable asset to send to the mound every fifth day. It would also provide the front office with an intriguing trade chip should trade talks arrive; given Minor's super-two status, he would be an attractive piece come July.
Assuming Minor is healthy and ready to go, he figures to join Teheran, Wood and Miller to form the top four. The fifth spot is up for grabs.
Stults came out of nowhere to have a career-year in 2013 with the Padres, setting career-highs or career-bests in just about every category. He flamed out in 2014 and was downright awful, posting a 4.30 ERA and 4.63 FIP (-0.6 WAR) over 32 starts and 176 innings. And that was in Petco Park. Given his veteran status, it would seem likely Stults will be given every chance this spring to win the fifth spot in the rotation to open the season.
The key piece in the Evan Gattis trade, Foltynewicz comes to camp with one of the most electric fastballs in the Grapefruit League. Foltynewicz – we need a nickname for this guy – will work closely alongside McDowell as he works to harness command of all three of his pitches, something he struggled with during last year's brief stint in Houston.
A strong showing (and Stults struggling) could have Folty in Atlanta to begin the season, though there will be no rush to promote the 23-year-old righty. Mark Bowman tweeted yesterday that the bullpen was also an option to begin the season.
One of John Hart's many veteran-scrap-heap signings of the winter, Rodriguez heads to camp looking to prove he's still got something left in his arm. He was bad in just six starts last season and wasn't much better in limited duty in 2013, and he just turned 36. Consider him a long shot for the fifth spot, and if he isn't willing to head to Gwinnett to serve as a veteran filler, his career may be over. An Aaron-Harang-like resurgence would be really cool, but don't hold your breath.
Banuelos came over from the Yankees this offseason, and McDowell will work to get southpaw back to what once made him one of the more promising pitchers in the minors. It seems likely Banuelos will head to Gwinnett to refine anything new he works on this spring, though it's possible he could crack the fifth spot if the Braves feel he's ready to make the jump. He would really have to impress to make that happen.